On the blasphemy of Quarter 95, searches and ban of the UOC

15 December 2022 19:25
Press conference in the Lavra. Photo: UOJ Press conference in the Lavra. Photo: UOJ

A briefing was held in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, where representatives of the UOC analyzed in detail the lawlessness committed around the Church lately.

On December 15, 2022, a press conference of the UOC was held in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, where bishops and priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church commented on the actions of the SBU during searches in churches and monasteries, and also assessed the latest episode of Quarter 95 show, in which blasphemous statements were made.

The briefing was attended by: Bishop Nikita of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomyia, Archpriest Serhiy Yushchyk, Rector of the Church of the Resurrection in Kyiv, Archpriest Oleksandr Klymenko, Archpriest Oleksandr Bakhov, Chairman of the Legal Department of the UOC, religious analyst Yuri Reshetnikov, and Archpriest Tarasiy Petruniak, Dean of the Spain and Portugal Metropolis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The humor of the “Quarter” is blasphemy

Archpriest Serhiy Yushchyk: “Humor for us is a tool for maintaining psychological balance, but to mock God, to use holy names, terms of Divine revelation, especially in obscene terms, is a sin.”

The priest quoted fragments of Quarter 95 show "dedicated" to the UOC and called them outright blasphemy.

“Ukraine forbids the Moscow Father, the Russian Spirit and the bunker Son” is a twisted allusion to the Names of the Holy Trinity, stated Fr. Serhiy.

“As long as the Rada has not banned Moscow priests, there is a legal way of resistance – the swear word of God,” sorry, but this is not just an insult to the Orthodox Church. This is an insult to any person for whom the Bible is Holy Scripture.

UOC sues Quarter 95 in court

The blasphemous 1+1 episode fuels animosity among Ukrainians and sets the stage for civil conflict, according to the head of the Legal Department of the UOC.

O. Alexander Bakhov: “Believers of the UOC, the clergy are labeled humorists, treated as enemies of the people. But believers defend our country, the Church provides great assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Unfortunately, secular media do not talk about it.

'1 + 1' has been producing stories that offend priests and believers of the UOC for many years. But in case with Quarter 95 this is an explicit blasphemy. The legal department filed a complaint with the police demanding that an investigation be launched. We qualify this as an insult to the feelings of believers. If the police refuse to do this, we will seek to open a case through the courts. We receive a lot of appeals from believers who are outraged by this performance. We will prepare sample documents, according to which they will also be able to join this criminal investigation.”

The current “jokes” are a consequence of the general policy of the authorities towards the UOC

Fr. Alexander Bakhov: “The blasphemous episodes of Quarter 95 result from the overall religious policy of the authorities in recent years. We see how the local authorities 'ban' the UOC, how bills are created aimed at eliminating the UOC, the media publish materials that incite hostility and create internal conflicts. We also see that in recent months, law enforcement agencies have become more active, searches are being carried out and thereby the clergy and laity of the UOC are put under pressure. 

To date, we have about 70 decisions of local authorities to ban the UOC. Such decisions are illegal. They do not comply with the Constitution, they violate the law of Ukraine on the martial law regime. It is not within the purview of the local authorities to ban religious organizations. In this case, we advise the clergy to contact law enforcement agencies. Indeed, according to Art. 19 of the Constitution, an official can act only within the framework of legislation. In some cities, the UOC is banned even twice. The purpose of such bans is to create an artificial information field, as if society is demanding a ban on the UOC. Actually, it's not like that at all."

The head of the Legal Department recalled that with the outbreak of the war, illegal re-registration of the UOC communities in favor of the OCU intensified with the help of the “Poroshenko” scheme – under the guise of a religious community, the decision is actually made by the territorial community. And a religious community, in fact, is re-registered on the basis of false documents.

On the basis of such documents, they (representatives of the OCU – Ed.) come and break the locks. There are even cases when priests of the UOC find out about the re-registration of their community by chance at the tax office or in court, where they apply for illegal actions."

UOC is not of the "Moscow Patriarchate"

Fr. Alexander Bakhov: “All the media, local councils stubbornly call the UOC as the 'Moscow Patriarchate'. But this is manipulation. Since 1991, the governing center of the UOC has been the Kyiv Metropolis, which is a legal entity. The founder of the Metropolis is the UOC Council. In the Statute of the Metropolitanate, there is no mention of whatever relations with other religious centers, including in the country carrying out aggression against Ukraine. Therefore, any accusations and twisting of the name of the UOC are not true.

When local authorities ban the 'Moscow Patriarchate', they ban who knows, because there is no such thing in Ukraine. There is no such legal entity. But the problem is that the village head or ordinary people take this decision to ban as a 'go-ahead' and go to our temple to seize it.”

Silence Police, Not Dialogue Police

Bishop Nikita: “In the Ivano-Frankivsk Cathedral, a group of people in balaclavas entered the shrine and tried to disrupt the service. We contacted the police with a request to restore order. But it was not the police of dialogue, it was the 'silence police'. When I approached each of them with the question of which of them was the eldest, they only turned away. Our parishioners, mostly women, had to push the hooligans out on their own. For this, they were also sprayed with tear gas in the face.

I believe that such behavior of the police is a step towards the destruction of our Ivano-Frankivsk diocese. And such a command is given from above, from the capital. Obviously, someone had a plan to make the first 'communist' region in Ukraine without the Church.”

“I don’t know who and why gave the command to rock the boat inside the country, but this boat is being rocked”

Archpriest Oleksandr Klymenko: “Remember the first months of the war. In the highest echelons of power, everyone was constantly arguing with our opponents. There were phrases that there are no Russian churches in Ukraine, all churches are Ukrainian. There were phrases that the UOC is not the ROC, it helps the army, etc. But literally in the last month and a half, the rhetoric has changed dramatically. Decisions are made at the National Security and Defense Council, a flywheel of checks is launched. Useless checks, but very important from the point of view of the media. After all, no one understands whether you are guilty or not. If there is a fact of verification, then there is guilt. I don’t know who and why gave the order to rock the boat inside the country, but this boat is being rocked.”

The UOC in reality and the UOC in the image of the media are different Churches

Yuri Reshetnikov: “If you look at how the UOC is portrayed in the media and at reality, you might think that there are two Churches. One is not Ukrainian, hostile, bad. The other is the one that objectively exists, whose believers work in this country, pay taxes, raise children, defend it with weapons in their hands or help in the rear. During the war, the UOC has already collected more than a million tons of humanitarian aid, most of which is intended for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The situation with 'Quarter 95' is based on the information campaign of the 'bad church'. But this is the tip of the iceberg. If it were not for all the previous years and a lot of inciting programs about the UOC, perhaps this 'Quarter 95' would not have been possible either. Someone has a feeling of impunity, hence we have such an episode. But these people must answer according to the law.

There is one more thing. Such blasphemy hurts the feelings of all believers, including Muslims. And in such a situation, the president of Ukraine, as a guarantor of the rights of Ukrainians, should also have his say. Besides, the AUCCRO should have responded too.”

Bishop Nikita: I was photographed by the security forces

Bishop Nikita about SBU searches and illegal photographs in underwear: “When I was photographed in underwear with my hands up, there was no one else but the security forces in the room. There was only a man in uniform and with a machine gun.”

About breaking the doors in the administration building of the diocese by the SBU officers: “They said, 'You could have weapons and forbidden literature', that’s why they broke the doors. I tell them, 'Let's say we would eat forbidden literature, but what would we do with weapons? Why did you have to destroy everything?"

Bishop Nikita about the lawsuit: “My lawyer filed a lawsuit against the Left Bank” (a resource that published a photo in the underwear of Bishop Nikita and subdeacon Pavel, as well as a text about the “Sodom scandal” – Ed.).

Fr. Alexander Bakhov, commenting on this incident, said that an investigation should be launched into how the photos taken by law enforcement officers during the investigation could have ended up with journalists:

“It is necessary to bring to justice the persons who carried out investigative actions regarding who handed over information with limited access to journalists and why. Neither the photo nor the video of the searches should have ended up in the wrong hands. We must apply to law enforcement agencies with a request to open an investigation on this matter. Because the question arises: how did the information with limited access leak into the media?"

How to act during searches by the SBU

Fr. Alexander Bakhov: “Law enforcement agencies allow all sorts of violations. It’s very important that the evidence obtained as a result of searches, which were carried out with violations, should be retrieved. In addition, everyone has the right to a lawyer during searches by law. The security forces must have permission for such actions, they must videotape, witnesses must be present. If violations occur, as it was in the Chernivtsi-Bukovyna eparchy, if your phones or laptops are taken away, it is necessary to fix such violations in the protocol, drawn up after the search. Who conducted the search, on what basis, the names of attesting witnesses, etc. should be recorded. The most important thing is what was seized. If these are devices, then the make, model, serial number have to be indicated. Otherwise, it is possible to spoof devices and add the information, on the basis of which you will be accused of some kind of crime.

It is important that media reports indicate that they (SBU – Ed.) are not conducting searches, but checks. I have not seen messages about conducting searches on the official resources of the security forces. Because a search is an action that requires permission: a court order or a prosecutor's order. In our case, the SBU and law enforcement officers are acting as part of a counter-terrorist operation. Therefore, in accordance with the law, they have the right to enter the premises and check documents. However, if someone demands, for example, to open a laptop, or breaks a safe, rummages through documents or reviews cabinets, then such actions qualify as a search. Of course, it’s hard to insist on your rights in front of people with weapons, but you need to politely point out that this is a violation of the law, and it’s better to do it on a video camera.

It is desirable that religious organizations have agreements with lawyers so that the latter can be invited in case of such actions. The point is not about hiding something, but only about preventing violations, abuses and manipulations or even planting compromising evidence. Because there is such information that in some regions, there were discovered leaflets that had never been there. The same regards symbols that can discredit a religious organization. That's what a lawyer is for – to provide qualified assistance and prevent violations of the rights of religious communities.

There are priests who say they do not violate anything and do not hence need a lawyer. But then they come and say that the officers found some leaflets."

What could be the punishment for Quarter 95?

Fr. Alexander Bakhov: “Preliminary qualification is 161 Art. of the Criminal Code – an insult to the feelings of believers. If the case goes to court, there may be either a fine or imprisonment."

Journalist: “So far we can see that this article is being applied to representatives of the UOC?"

Fr. Alexander Bakhov: “Unfortunately, yes. We can see that law enforcement officers work selectively in our case. There are criminal investigations and even court decisions about individuals who criticized the OCU or its adherents. However, they did not even get near to what Quarter 95 participants dared say about the UOC. Therefore, this is to some extent an indicator of how objectively law enforcement officers and the court work in our country. Let me reiterate that there are decisions whereby people are held accountable for statements that can be considered as an expression of their opinion. However, this is treated as an insult and is subject to prosecution."

Journalist: “Is there a reaction from the Local Churches to what is happening around the UOC? Do they see it all?

Bishop Nikita: “They do. There are contacts with representatives of the Serbian, Romanian, Polish Churches. Everyone understands the situation."

For Europe, what is happening around the UOC is a shock

Fr. Oleksandr Klymenko: “There are no official statements yet, because everyone (Local Churches – Ed.) is recovering from the latest wave of the fight against the UOC. For the European world of the last century, this is nonsense, this is something unfamiliar both in legal terms and in state-church relations. We understand this could only happen in totalitarian states. There is an obvious discrepancy between what our country declares in terms of European aspirations and what is actually happening.”

When the Phanar cleric demands Zelenskyy to stop pressure on the UOC

Archpriest Tarasiy Petruniak, Dean of Spain and Portugal of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, criticized the base humor of "Quarter 95", calling it an instrument of government pressure on the UOC. According to Fr. Tarasiy, such tricks show that the authorities have not been able to build relations with the country's largest Church.

The priest sent his video statement to the press conference.

“The low-grade product of the comedians of the so-called ‘Quarter 95’, who allowed themselves attacks on the largest Church in Ukraine. You can criticize anyone, but not the one who brings the truth to people. The task of the Church is not to let a person forget that he carries the image of God in himself. The profanation of this image is the work of the evil one,” the dean reminded.

“Such a primitive satire is an instrument of government pressure on the UOC, notably in the context of searches conducted by modern NKVD officers from the SBU,” the Phanar cleric emphasized.

He noted that nothing like this can even be imagined in today's Europe.

“This situation shows the complete impotence of the authorities in the religious issue. This means that the authorities have not been able to build their relations with the Church, which was created by the efforts of Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir,” Father Tarasiy emphasized. He suggested that the current government of Ukraine does not identify itself with Kievan Rus and does not feel historical continuity.

“I call on the president, the prime minister, and the Ukrainian media to help ensure that the right of citizens to freedom of religion is respected throughout Ukraine on a sustainable level,” said Archpriest Tarasiy Petruniak in conclusion.

On the bills against the UOC

Fr. Alexander Bakhov: “As of today, there are 7 bills submitted to the Verkhovna Rada on restrictions or prohibition of the UOC. It is nonsense that a European state with a rule of law produces legislation aimed at banning the activities of the country's largest confession.

On December 9, the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Policy considered 4 bills and recommended them to the Verkhovna Rada for voting. All 4 bills are directed against the UOC. I emphasize that none of them says it has any relation to the UOC. However, if you look at the accompanying documents (explanatory notes), they specifically and indirectly indicate they will go against the UOC. In addition, they contain the rhetoric similar to the laws of P. Poroshenko’s times: about renaming and allegedly improving the registration of the UOC communities, as the registration authority has now passed from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Culture. So, we see that the new bills retain the same rhetoric and the same scheme: they have no direct reference to the UOC, but everyone understands what it is all about. In addition, the authors of the bills do not hide their views in the media and say publicly why they register their bills.

The first (out of four) bills relates to the non-profit status of religious organizations. It is permeated by the idea of the center, which is located in the aggressor country or connected with it. But here the question is that in accordance with the Constitution, we have the principle of equality. By this new law, they will define a particular denomination and deprive it of the non-profit status.
Now all religious organizations are not engaged in business, but operate at the expense of donations or contributions from their members. If there is no such status, the religious organization will be taxed as a business structure.

The second bill, 8262, is aimed at facilitating the raider seizure of religious communities. If earlier, in order to change subordination, it was necessary to provide a notarized copy or the original statute / certificate, then this law cancels the above. Moreover, the decision to change the jurisdiction of the community will be made by two-thirds of those present at the meeting. That is, if out of 100 members of the community only 20 have gathered, then the decision of two-thirds of these twenty is enough for the transition.

Also, this law prescribes the possibility of changing confessions for dioceses, monasteries, missions. I think this was done in order to be able to seize dioceses and monasteries, as is now done with churches.

The next law is about the VR’s request to the Cabinet of Ministers regarding the transfer of the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavra to the OCU. Everything is abundantly clear: the legislative branch of power intervenes in the activities of the executive branch. This is first. Secondly, the subject of the executive initiative refers to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, art. 17, arguing that state property can be transferred to the alternate use of religious organizations. But if one of these organizations does not agree, then the owner (the state) establishes the procedure for using this property independently.

However, there is one 'but'. The fact is that today there are already documents for the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavra, on the basis of which they use them. And just like that, by the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers or someone else, it will be illegal to cancel these documents. The right to use must be canceled through the court. It is impossible to prove this at the level of law, otherwise the rights of believers will be violated here.

And the last but not least law that causes indignation among the Orthodox most of all is MP Kniazhytsky's bill.

First, it establishes a monopoly on the use of the word "Orthodox". In accordance with this draft law, only the OCU or an organization that has received permission from it will be able to use this term. The statutes of other religious organizations that use this term will be cancelled.

It also establishes such a wording as 'foreign religious organization', which will be referred to according to incomprehensible criteria. And this organization will be limited in its rights. Any other organization, legal entity that will interact with this 'foreign religious organization' will have to obtain permission from the body that regulates state policy in the sphere of religions. And again, this 'foreign religious organization' will not be able to have international relations, contacts with other Churches without the permission of the state agency for religions.

These bills do not meet the norms of international law, violate the Constitution of Ukraine, run counter to the requirements of legal technique. These laws should be taken off the agenda and not put to a vote.”


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